Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: Savages



Oliver Stone seems to be a director that's lost his way a little bit recently.  In an age of film where the edgy movies are being made by Tarantino, Nolan, Scorsese and others, Stone (one of the original controversial directors) has quieted down a bit with some average work that includes W., Alexander, World Trade Center and a subpar sequel to Wall Street.  Stone's latest effort Savages marks the return to violent drug-infused over-the-top shock cinema that we're used to seeing from a director who has made Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, The Doors and Natural Born Killers.  With an all-star cast on-board that's ready to play ball Stone looks like he's about to become relevant again in Hollywood.

Savages spins the tale of Chon and Ben, two friends and business partners (Friday Night Lights' Taylor Kitsch and Kick Ass' Aaron Johnson) living in Southern California who develop a way to sell a very potent brand of marijuana.  They befriend a wild surfer girl (the very attractive Blake Lively) named Ophelia (O) who ends up developing relationships with each of the men.  The power trio (whom Stone loves to shoot in several intimate situations) become inseperable and when O is kidnapped by a drug cartel led by Salma Hayek with Benicio Del Toro as the strongman, the duo resort to "savage" methods to get her back safely.

Stone does a great job of ratcheting up the tensions between the main players after a slow start to the film.  He uses some gritty grainy filming techniques and does a remarkably realistic job of portraying the California pot scene.  Through the eye of Stone everything looks washed-out and raw and you really do feel that you are along for the ride as the chess game plays out between Chon/Ben and Hayek's drug family.

Johnson plays the perfect pot-head in Ben and is worlds away from his scrawny physique he displayed as Kick-Ass in the quasi-super-hero film.  Kitsch seems a little lost as a lead actor after putting his heart and soul into Tim Riggins for 5 seasons on FNL.  I know the ladies like him but I'm just not sure he'll ever be a good actor (Channing Tatum seems to have more acting potential right now).  Lively is effective as the object of desire in the film but for some reason her mole kept bugging me throughout.  Del Toro is great as always in a very gruff and understated role that reminds me of a toned down version of the Academy Award winning character he played in Traffic.

The real star of Savages, however, is Hayek who gives the performance of her career in my opinion as Elena Sanchez.  Now keep in mind that I never saw her Oscar nominated turn as Frida Kahlo, but I personally have never seen her give as powerful a performance as she does here.  As a rare female drug kingpin, she commands a giant presence in every scene she's in.  She's no-nonsense and ruthless nearly all of the time despite a few emotional breakdowns.  I hope this performance is not overlooked come Oscar time.

It's good to see Oliver Stone getting back to the basics and making a quality action film.  I wish the movie didn't drag so much at the beginning and the ending is a bit odd.  The inclusion of John Travolta in a near throw-away role as a DEA agent is a bit odd especially considering his recent massage tendencies.  But overall I can definitely recommend this film.  4 out of 5 JRs for Savages.  It looks like my next review will be The Dark Knight Rises which I plan on seeing next Friday.  My hopes are very high for my favorite director working today (Christopher Nolan).